Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Showcase


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

Consumer Reports

older | 1 | .... | 25 | 26 | (Page 27) | 28 | 29 | .... | 106 | newer

    0 0

    5 small appliances that make food prep a snap

    When Consumer Reports surveyed 3,435 of its subscribers about their experiences cooking weeknight meals, almost half said they wished the task took less time. So the experts in our labs got to work testing kitchen equipment with time-saving features. They found products (Speed cookers) and strategies (Save time in the kitchen) to help make meal prep less laborious. And they discovered five top-rated small appliances that can be big time-savers.

    Panasonic FlashXpress NB-G110P toaster oven, $150. The quartz and ceramic heating elements in the FlashXpress eliminate the 5-minute preheat time required with other toaster ovens. In our toaster oven tests, corn muffins and pizza came out very nicely.

    Cuisinart Smart Stick CSB-75 immersion blender, $35. These stick blenders save time by letting you blend soups, sauces, and such right in the pot. In our blender tests, this model from Cuisinart combined solid performance with an outstanding price.

    Vitamix Professional Series blender, $650. In our blender tests, this Vitamix whipped up superb smoothies, frozen drinks, and even hot soup, plus it’s short enough to slide under upper cabinets when it’s not in use, freeing up countertop work space.

    Breville BFP800XL/A food processor, $400. Whiz through meal prep with the top food processor from our tests. Chopping, slicing, shredding, and grating were all superb, and the 16-cup container lets you process large batches.

    DeLonghi Nescafé Dolce Gusto Genio EDG455T single-serve coffeemaker, $130. It was tops in our coffeemaker tests at brewing a single cup quickly and consistently. If you prefer a drip coffeemaker, choose a model that can be set to turn on by itself in the morning.   

    —Daniel DiClerico

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Dacor Discovery IQ smart oven texts you when food's ready

    At CES 2014, it's clear that smart devices aren't just restricted to phones and tablets. Dacor, the appliance manufacturer, showed off a very smart oven at last night's CES Unveiled show preview. The Discover IQ Oven has a built-in Android tablet that you use to look up recipes online, or to stream some entertaining video while you wait for the meatloaf to cook.

    The smart oven is also compatible with iOs and Android smart devices; you can turn on your oven remotely, and it will even text you when whatever you're roasting or baking is done. Check out our video to see how it works. And for more on smart, connected home gadgets, see our story, "High-tech home gear for gadget gurus."

    For all the show news, trends, and analysis visit our insider's guide to CES 2014.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Interior paints that look good—and last

     

    Picking a paint has become harder than just picking a color (as if that wasn’t confusing enough). Relying on past experiences isn’t a good way to pick a brand because paints are frequently reformulated, which changes their performance.

    Consumer Reports tested 67 paints, including a pricey import from England known for its colors, to see how well they hide old paint, how well they hold up to stains and scrubbing, and the smoothness of the finish.

    In fact, we’ve toughened our tests by applying water- and oil-based stains to painted panels. Most paints faltered in our new staining tests. Satin finishes from two major brands didn’t make our recommended list this time around. If one of the big home-improvement stores is your go-to place for paint, use those paints in low-traffic areas.

    Though its colors were lovely, Farrow & Ball was the worst at hiding old paint. It took two coats of the $105 eggshell finish in white to do what the top-rated satin did in one. (The terms “eggshell” and “satin” are used interchangeably by companies to describe paints with some sheen.) More coats mean more money and time, and the Farrow & Ball paint isn’t self-­priming, unlike most we tested. The eggshell and gloss paints also left a rough, grainy finish and lost most of their sheen after cleaning, though both resisted stains well.

    How to choose

    White and other neutrals are in style again. And warm grays are hot, too, according to color experts. You can find in­spir­ation at the manufacturers’ Pinterest boards and websites, where you can compare color palettes or play with tools that let you upload a photo of your room and paint it virtually before picking up a brush. Here’s what else to consider:

    Pick the finish. “More people are using the same color for walls and trim, without much contrast in sheen,” says Leslie Harrington, a color expert. “This creates a clean line and redirects your eye to other things in the room—the furniture, art.” Semigloss isn’t a must for trim. Many eggshell and satin paints have become much better at standing up to scrubbing, according to our latest interior paint tests. Flat paints are better than eggshell at hiding imperfections because they don’t reflect light. But flats are the least stain-resistant, so they aren’t a great choice for busy rooms.

    Nail the perfect color. Light affects color significantly. So once you’ve zeroed in on a hue, consider buying three samples: the color you’re drawn to, and a shade lighter and one darker. Paint a sample next to a window and in an area that’s dark, viewing the colors in daylight and at night, with the lights on and off.

    The full article is available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers. Sign in or subscribe to read this article.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 01/26/14--20:59: Child seats LATCH for safety
  • Child seats LATCH for safety

    Summer heat, heavy rain, and cold, driving snow can make it difficult to get even the best-behaved children out of the house and into the car. Installing a child safety seat in such conditions might not only make the job difficult, it could lead to an improper installation. The legislated implementation of the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) system for new cars was intended to make car-seat installation easier and safer. As Consumer Reports has found, LATCH systems help eliminate some installation issues encountered when using the safety belts. But some auto manufacturers could improve where they place the anchors.

    LATCH was designed with two objectives in mind:

    • Make the installation of child seats easier.
    • Eliminate the safety-belt incompatibilities.

    Federal rules mandated that as of Sept. 1, 1999, top tether anchors must be in place in new cars and top tether straps must be on all front-facing child seats. When cinched tight, a top tether provides added security by preventing the child seat from tipping forward in a crash, and therefore limiting the movement of a child's head.

    Lower anchors were phased in by law starting in 2000, and they are now required in almost all cars and light trucks less than 8,500 pounds. The corresponding hooks were required in all child-safety seats manufactured on or after September 1, 2002.

    Based on our tests of both the child safety seats and vehicles, LATCH has really accomplished only the second objective. Consumer Reports Director of Operations at our Auto Test Center and Certified Child Passenger Safety Technician Jennifer Stockburger notes that "installing a child restraint with LATCH is still quite a chore, as you need to make multiple connections to anchors that aren't always easy to find and reach. At least with LATCH, when you get all of that done you can be fairly sure that you have a tight fit, something you're not always sure of with the safety belts."

    However, what you may not know is that the LATCH anchors are currently designed for a maximum combined weight of the child and child seat of 65 lbs. Depending on what manufacturers estimate to be the weight of the average child seat, many limit LATCH use to between 40 and 48 lbs. Once children exceed this weight, the seat must be installed using the vehicle seat belt, not LATCH. That information is sometimes listed in the vehicle’s owner’s manual, but in most cases, it is not readily available. The weight limit on the lower anchors is designed to prevent over-stressing the anchors in the event of a crash. New labeling rules in effect in February 2014 are aimed to help make it clearer that a child’s weight determines how long LATCH can be used and to make the limit readily identifiable for each seat. For more on the new labels, see our blog.

    Installing a child seat with safety belts is a difficult process that often leaves the child less secure than you might hope. In fact, up to 75 percent of child seats are installed incorrectly or used improperly.

    With all such models, the belt is threaded through a path in the structure of the child seat and then clicked into place. Slack must be taken out of the belt to keep the seat snug. However, belts that have anchors narrower than the child seat base or belts that originate far from the center of the child seat increase the chances that the seat can twist or move side-to-side. The safety belts in many cars are also anchored far forward of the seatback, making it nearly impossible to get the seat secure. The way some shoulder belts are routed can also allow the child seat to tip during a turn. When this happens, the safety belt often ratchets back on the additional slack and the seat stays in a semi-tipped position.

    Many of the safety-belt-related problems can be eliminated with LATCH. The lower anchors are positioned in or near the gap between the seat cushion and the bottom of the seat back. When the straps on the child seat are tightened, they pull the seat firmly against the seatback and prevent it from twisting or tipping. When the top tether is attached, the seat can't pitch forward, putting the child in a safer position.

    While it is recommended, but not necessary, to use the top tether when installing the seat with the safety belts, top tethers are a critical component of the LATCH system when used to install forward facing seats because otherwise only the bottom of the seat is secured (by the lower anchors). Without use of the top tether, the child seat can pitch forward in a sudden stop.

    Unfortunately, there are factors that can make installation of LATCH-equipped seats difficult or, in some cases, impossible.

    Typically, the safest spot to install a child seat is in the center position of the rear seat. That positions the child farthest from danger in an impact. Unfortunately, most vehicles don't equip their vehicles with lower anchors in the center seats. Chrysler Group and General Motors are good at providing three sets of attachments in their larger vehicles, and Ford owner's manuals often allow for child seats to be positioned in the middle using the inner anchors from the left and right side LATCH anchors.

    Access to the lower anchors varies from vehicle to vehicle; the best anchors allow the seat to quickly click or be hooked into place, while others make it awkward to attach and/or detach. Some vehicles have very firm seat cushions, making it difficult to fit your hand in to find and access the anchor. Other vehicles have soft cushions, but the anchor is recessed so far back that it's difficult to reach. Optimally located lower anchors provide enough space for an adult hand to easily access them.

    Getting to the top tethers can also be a difficult and frustrating process. Many vehicles have well-positioned anchors that are readily accessible; parents can simply run the top tether under the head restraint and clip it into the top tether anchor. Never run the tether over a removable or adjustable head restraint because the soft material in the head restraint can compress and create slack in the tether strap. It is better to remove or raise the restraint and run the tether over the seatback.

    Of all vehicle types, sedans generally have tether anchors that are easiest to reach, located on the rear deck behind the seats, typically set inside a small, covered recess. Wagons, SUVs, and hatchbacks with good tether anchors have them positioned midway up the back of the seats, sometimes with plastic covers that snap in place when they aren't being used. Ideal setups provide one top tether anchor for each seat location, so the straps are anchored straight back without twisting.

    But many wagons and hatchbacks also have less-friendly tether anchor locations. Some place the anchors at the base of the seat where it folds. These can be a full arm's-length away, making them already difficult to reach. To access this anchor from within the cabin, it may be necessary to tilt the seatback forward--a challenging maneuver if a large child seat is already on the vehicle's seat. Other models place the tether anchors beneath carpet or covers in the cargo floor.

    Hatchbacks and wagons also often have a cargo cover that protects luggage from the sun or the prying eyes of thieves. But the space between the cargo cover and the seatback is often very narrow, making it impossible to fit the tether strap through. The cover must be removed to access and install the tether strap, which is just another annoyance to deal with and adds to the potential for parents or caregivers to opt out of a crucial step.

    Make sure that you thoroughly read the owner's manual for your vehicle and the instructions for your child's seat to give you the best chance of getting the most secure fit.

    It is important for consumers to make sure they consider how their child's seat is going to fit in any vehicle they are considering for purchase. Take your seat(s) and child(ren) with you to the dealership and practice installing them to make sure you're comfortable with the process in advance, rather than struggling to learn when you're under pressure. This is also a good opportunity to make sure the child is comfortable in the vehicle.

    If you are looking to buy a new child seat, try it in the store parking lot before buying if possible, or at least test-fit the seat right after it is purchased. If you encounter a problem with the seat or installation or an incompatibility with your car, head right back to the store and exchange the seat for another one that may fit better.

    Check with local police or fire departments or hospitals to see when free child-seat inspections are offered to have a trained professional verify that the seat is installed properly, or to correct any problems.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    10 safety checks to make before you buy

    You need to consider several factors when evaluating a vehicle's overall safety. They range from how it performs in an emergency-handling situation and how it protects its occupants in a collision to how easy it is to secure a child seat. When comparing vehicles, it's important to look at all the appropriate variables, including safety-related ratings and features. Below, we list 10 safety checks that are worth reviewing before you make your final buying decision.

    1. Insurance-industry crash-test ratings
    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a safety-research group that conducts its own series of crash tests. In its frontal-offset crash, the IIHS runs a vehicle at 40 mph into a deformable barrier. Instead of engaging the whole width of the car's front end, the barrier covers just the 40 percent of the car in front of the driver.

    Using a deformable barrier simulates a car-to-car, driver's-side-to-driver's-side collision, which is a common form of fatal crash. By focusing the crash on only a portion of the car's front, this test severely stresses the car's structural integrity and its ability to protect the area around the driver without collapsing.

    The IIHS scores its frontal-crash results as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor. You can find ratings for all tested vehicles on the IIHS Web site, at www.hwysafety.org.

    Since 2002, the IIHS also has conducted its own side-impact tests, which simulate a vehicle being struck in the side at 31 mph by a vehicle the height and weight of a typical SUV or pickup. The test is more severe than the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's side-crash test (described below), which simulates a vehicle being hit in the side by a vehicle the height and weight of a typical family sedan.

    For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

    2. Government crash-test ratings
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts two types of crash tests: full frontal and side impact. Each is scored on a five-star scale, with fewer stars indicating a greater likelihood of serious injury. You can check the scores for all crash-tested vehicles online at www.safercars.gov.

    NHTSA's frontal test is a good indication of how well a vehicle's safety belts and air bags protect the occupants in specific types of impacts. The frontal test runs vehicles into a rigid barrier at 35 mph. That simulates a head-on collision between two vehicles of similar weight, each traveling at 35 mph. Instrumented crash dummies in the two front seats record the crash forces they sustain and scores are assigned for the driver and front passenger.

    NHTSA's side-impact test simulates an intersection-type collision using a 3,015 pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. Scores are assigned to the driver and the left-rear (impacted side) passenger.

    Both the NHTSA and IIHS frontal crash-test results are comparable only to vehicles within the same weight class as the tested car. If vehicle weights are very dissimilar, the results could be very different.

    For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

    3. Electronic stability control (ESC)
    CR's auto experts highly recommend electronic stability control, particularly on SUVs. ESC is designed to help keep the vehicle under control and on its intended path during cornering, and prevent it from sliding or skidding. If a vehicle begins to go out of control, the system selectively applies brakes to one or more wheels and cuts engine power to keep the vehicle on course. On SUVs, stability control can help prevent the vehicle from getting into a situation that could lead to a rollover. While electronic stability control has improved the emergency handling on the vehicles we have tested, it's not a cure-all for inherently poor-handling vehicles. Its effectiveness depends on how it is programmed and how it is integrated with the vehicle. It also cannot overcome the laws of physics.

    Automakers often refer to their stability-control systems by different names (see our guide to safety features), so if it's not clear be sure to ask if a vehicle has electronic stability control. To make it less confusing for the consumer, the Society of Automotive Engineers has asked that all manufacturers use electronic stability control, or ESC, as common terminology when referring to their stability-control systems. Consumer Reports supports this move because it will help consumers know what they are buying.

    A number of studies of ESC have been completed and all point to a substantial reduction in accidents and deaths. The IIHS has estimated that if all cars had ESC, it would save 10,000 lives per year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced plans to require ESC as standard on all vehicles by the 2012 model year.

    4. Rollover resistance
    Taller vehicles, such as SUVs and pickups, are more likely to roll over than passenger cars. According to the IIHS, SUVs have a rollover rate that is two to three times that of passenger cars.

    A taller vehicle has a higher center of gravity, which makes it more top-heavy than one that sits lower to the ground. In a situation where a vehicle is subjected to strong sideways forces, such as in a sudden cornering maneuver, it's easier for a taller vehicle to roll over.

    To give consumers a way of telling which vehicles have a higher rollover propensity than others, NHTSA has developed a five-star rating system called the Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR). That rating used to be based solely on a vehicle's "static stability factor (SSF)," which is determined from measurements of its track width and center of gravity. Because the SSF is based on measurements of a stationary vehicle rather than on a dynamic road test, the rating doesn't account for vehicles' different suspension designs, tires, or the presence of a stability-control system—any of which can make a significant difference. Beginning with the ratings for 2004 models, NHTSA combined the SSF with a dynamic rollover test performed with moving vehicles.

    NHTSA's rollover ratings can be found at www.safercar.gov. For specific information about a vehicle's star rating, click on "Search 5-Star Safety Ratings," then select the vehicle class, such as SUV, then its year, then the make and model. Scroll down to the heading Rollover, and a chart there will tell you whether the vehicle tipped (under Dynamic Test Result), and also its likelihood of rollover expressed as an exact percentage rather than a star.

    You can also see comparison lists of all tested vehicles within a class (passenger car, SUV, etc.). From the www.safercar.gov home page, click on "Search 5-Star Safety Ratings" then select just the class, or class and model year.

    We believe that vehicles that tip up in NHTSA's test have a potential stability problem and CR will not recommend them, regardless of their star rating. In order for an SUV or pickup to be recommended, it must either have been included in NHTSA's test and have not tipped up or, if it has not been tested, it must offer electronic stability control.

    5. Antilock brake system (ABS)
    CR's auto experts highly recommend getting an antilock brake system (ABS), which is available as standard or optional equipment on nearly all vehicles. ABS prevents the wheels from locking up during a hard stop, something that can cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle. ABS almost always provides shorter stops, but, even more importantly, the system helps keep the vehicle straight and allows the driver to maneuver during a panic stop.

    6. Accident avoidance
    A vehicle's ability to help you avoid an accident is just as important as its crashworthiness. Key factors to consider are braking and emergency handling, although acceleration, visibility, driving position, and even seat comfort (which affects driver fatigue) also play a role.

    Consumer Reports evaluates these factors on every vehicle it tests.

    7. Air bags
    By law, every new passenger vehicle comes equipped with dual front air bags. But the sophistication of the systems can vary. It's worth checking what type of air-bag systems a vehicle has.

    Most upscale vehicles and many others now have some version of a "smart" air-bag system. It uses electronic sensors to gauge several variables, which, depending on the model, include crash severity, safety-belt use, the position of the driver's seat, and the weight and/or position of an occupant in the front-passenger seat. This information is used to tailor the deployment of the vehicle's front and side air bags.

    Dual-threshold and multistage front bags can deploy with varying force, depending on crash severity. In a less-severe collision the bags inflate with less force. In a more severe crash, the bags inflate with more force and more quickly. Many systems withhold deployment on the passenger side if the seat is unoccupied (to save money on replacement) or if the seat is occupied by a person below a certain weight (to prevent possible injury from the bag). The government mandated "advanced" front air bags to be phased in all cars between the 2004 and 2007 model years. They deploy less aggressively or not at all, depending on a front passenger's size or position.

    Side air bags are now common for front occupants. The basic side air bag deploys from the seatback or door, and is designed to protect a person's torso. Separate side bags that protect the have become commonplace as well. The standard design is a side-curtain bag that drops down from the headliner and covers both the front and rear windows. Consumer Reports highly recommends head-protection side air bags where they're available.

    8. Safety-belt features
    Three-point lap-and-shoulder belts provide the most protection in a crash, and most vehicles now have them in all seating positions. A few, however, still have only a lap belt in the center-rear position, which allows the upper part of the body to move forward in a crash or panic stop. The comfort of the belts is also important, because some people won't wear them if they're uncomfortable. Some vehicles, for instance, have front belts whose shoulder portion retracts into the seatback instead of the car's door pillar. Their advantage is that they move with the seat when the seat is adjusted fore and aft. But they can tug down uncomfortably on the shoulder of someone with a long torso.

    Many vehicles also include safety-belt pretensioners and force limiters, which work with the air bags to protect you in a crash. Pretensioners automatically take up the slack in the seat belt during a frontal crash, helping to restrain and properly position people for the air bag. Force-limiters relax the safety-belt tension slightly following the initial impact, so they can help absorb some of a person's forward thrust. That helps prevent chest and internal injuries caused by the belt itself.

    9. Head restraints
    A car's head restraints are vital for guarding against the whiplash neck injuries that often accompany a rear-end collision. Restraints need to be tall enough to cushion the head above the top of the spine. Many cars' head restraints adjust for height. Look for those that lock in the raised position—a legal requirement for cars made since September, 2009. Those that do not can be forced down in a crash, losing effectiveness. Many cars' rear restraints are too low to do much good, which Consumer Reports notes in its road test reports. The IIHS Web site (www.hwysafety.org) provides head-restraint or rear-crash ratings for many models.

    10. Child safety
    Child-safety seats save lives and should be used until a child is big enough to use the vehicle's regular safety belt. The conventional method of attaching a child seat uses the vehicle's safety belts. Often, incompatibilities between the car's seat and the child seat make a good, tight fit difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.

    For some years all new vehicles have had a universal system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) that is designed to make attachment easier and more secure. But the system doesn't work equally well in all vehicles. Consumer Reports has found many cars with the LATCH attachment points sufficiently obscured that it's not easy to use them. CR comments on the ease of installing child seats in its test reports. But the key is to try out a new car seat in your existing vehicle, or try out your existing car seat in a new vehicle before you buy either.

    Another child-safety consideration is power-window switches. Children have accidentally activated a power window while leaning out and have been killed or injured by the window closing on them. The easiest types to inadvertently trigger are horizontal rocker and toggle switches on the door's armrest, which raise the window when pushed down or to the side. Lever-type switches, which are flush with the surrounding trim and only raise the window when pulled up, are a safer design.

    You need to consider several factors when evaluating a vehicle's overall safety. They range from how it performs in an emergency-handling situation and how it protects its occupants in a collision to how easy it is to secure a child seat. When comparing vehicles, it's important to look at all the appropriate variables, including safety-related ratings and features. Below, we list 10 safety checks that are worth reviewing before you make your final buying decision.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a safety-research group that conducts its own series of crash tests, to the front, side, and rear. The primary frontal crash series runs a vehicle at 40 mph into a deformable barrier. Instead of engaging the whole width of the car's front end, which the government’s traditional front-crash test does, the barrier covers just the 40 percent of the car that’s in front of the driver.
That’s known as a frontal offset crash.

    Using a deformable barrier instead of a rigid one, the test simulates a car-to-car, driver's-side-to-driver's-side collision, which is a common form of fatal crash. By focusing the crash on only a portion of the car's front, this test severely stresses the car's structural integrity and its ability to protect the area around the driver without collapsing.

    The IIHS scores its frontal-crash results as Good, Acceptable, Marginal, or Poor.

    In 2012 the IIHS inaugurated a second set of frontal offset crashes, one that engages just 25 percent of the car’s front end. Think of it as a head-on crash between two vehicles that meet left-headlight to left-headlight, or a single-vehicle crash into a utility pole or tree. In a crash like that the driver’s foot well can deform, causing serious injury to a driver’s lower legs, and the car pivots to the side, throwing the driver against the front door and window. It will take some time for the IIHS to accumulate enough results from the small-overlap tests to make meaningful comparisons across the car market. But early results show a wide range of performance from Good to Poor. You can find ratings for all tested vehicles on the IIHS website, at www.hwysafety.org.



    Since 2003, the IIHS also has conducted its own side-impact tests, which simulate a vehicle being struck in the side at 31 mph by a vehicle the height and weight of a typical SUV or pickup. Two dummies representing small (5th percentile) women or 12-year-old children are positioned in the driver seat and the rear seat behind the driver.

    IIHS also compiles rollover ratings by measuring roof strength.  The test uses a metal plate pushed down on one front corner of a vehicle's roof to see how much weight the roof can withstand.  Top scores go to vehicles that can withstand four times the vehicle’s weight without much deformation.

    New for 2014, the IIHS is evaluating forward collision warning systems based on performance in tests at 12 mph and 25 mph. Additional points are awarded for autobrake. Those vehicles that offer this next level of safety can now earn the Top Safety Pick+ award

    For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducts a full frontal crash test, a side impact and rollover assessment. Each is scored on a five-star scale, with fewer stars indicating a greater likelihood of serious injury. You can check the scores for all crash-tested vehicles online at www.safercar.gov.

    NHTSA's frontal test is a good indication of how well a vehicle's safety belts and air bags protect the occupants in specific types of impacts. The frontal test runs vehicles into a rigid barrier at 35 mph. That simulates a head-on collision between two identical vehicles, each traveling at 35 mph. Instrumented crash dummies in the two front seats record the crash forces they sustain and scores are assigned for the driver and front passenger.

    NHTSA's side-impact test simulates an intersection-type collision using a 3,015 pound barrier moving at 38.5 mph into a standing vehicle. Scores are assigned to the driver and the left-rear (impacted side) passenger. In 2011, NHTSA improved their ratings evaluation and also added a side-pole test using different sized dummies.

    Both the NHTSA and IIHS frontal crash-test results are comparable only to vehicles within the same weight class as the tested car. If vehicle weights are very dissimilar, the results could be very different.

    For more information on crash testing and ratings, see our Crash test 101 report.

    Consumer Reports' auto experts highly recommend electronic stability control, particularly on SUVs. ESC is designed to help keep the vehicle under control and on its intended path during cornering, and prevent it from sliding or skidding. If a vehicle begins to go out of control, the system selectively applies brakes to one or more wheels and cuts engine power to keep the vehicle on course. On SUVs, stability control can help prevent the vehicle from getting into a situation that could lead to a rollover. While electronic stability control has improved the emergency handling on the vehicles we have tested, it's not a cure-all for inherently poor-handling vehicles. Its effectiveness depends on how it is programmed and how it is integrated with the vehicle. It also cannot overcome the laws of physics.

    Automakers often refer to their stability-control systems by different names (see our guide to safety features), so if it's not clear be sure to ask if a vehicle has electronic stability control.

    A number of studies of ESC have been completed and all point to a substantial reduction in accidents and deaths. The IIHS has estimated that if all cars had ESC, it would save 10,000 lives per year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now requires ESC to be standard on all new vehicles.

    Taller vehicles, such as SUVs and pickups, are more likely to roll over than passenger cars. According to the IIHS, SUVs have a rollover rate that is two to three times that of passenger cars.

    A taller vehicle has a higher center of gravity, which makes it more top-heavy than one that sits lower to the ground. In a situation where a vehicle is subjected to strong sideways forces, such as in a sudden cornering maneuver, it's easier for a taller vehicle to roll over.

    To give consumers a way of telling which vehicles have a higher rollover propensity than others, NHTSA has developed a five-star rating system called the Rollover Resistance Rating (RRR). That rating used to be based solely on a vehicle's "static stability factor (SSF)," which is determined from measurements of its track width and center of gravity. Because the SSF is based on measurements of a stationary vehicle rather than on a dynamic road test, the rating doesn't account for vehicles' different suspension designs, tires, or the presence of a stability-control system—any of which can make a significant difference. Beginning with the ratings for 2004 models, NHTSA combined the SSF with a dynamic rollover test performed with moving vehicles.

    NHTSA's rollover ratings can be found at www.safercar.gov. For specific information about a vehicle's star rating, click on "Search 5-Star Safety Ratings," then select the vehicle class, such as SUV, then its year, then the make and model. Scroll down to the heading Rollover, and a chart there will tell you whether the vehicle tipped (under Dynamic Test Result), and also its likelihood of rollover expressed as an exact percentage rather than a star.

    You can also see comparison lists of all tested vehicles within a class (passenger car, SUV, etc.). From the www.safercar.gov home page, click on "Search 5-Star Safety Ratings" then select just the class, or class and model year.

    CR's auto experts highly recommend getting an antilock brake system (ABS), which is now standard on all new vehicles and has been standard on most for some years. ABS prevents the wheels from locking up during a hard stop, something that can cause the car to spin out. ABS almost always provides shorter stops, but, even more importantly, the system helps keep the vehicle straight and allows the driver to maneuver during a panic stop.

    A vehicle's ability to help you avoid an accident is just as important as its crashworthiness. Key factors to consider are braking and emergency handling, although acceleration, visibility, driving position, and even seat comfort (which affects driver fatigue) also play a role.

    Consumer Reports evaluates these factors on every vehicle it tests.

    By law, every new passenger vehicle comes equipped with dual front air bags. All new cars have some version of a "smart" air-bag system. It uses electronic sensors to gauge several variables, which, depending on the model, include crash severity, safety-belt use, the position of the driver's seat, and the weight and/or position of an occupant in the front-passenger seat. This information is used to tailor the deployment of the vehicle's front and side air bags.

    Many systems withhold deployment on the passenger side if the seat is unoccupied (to save money on replacement) or if the seat is occupied by a person below a certain weight (to prevent possible injury from the bag). The government mandated "advanced" front air bags to be phased in all cars between the 2004 and 2007 model years. They deploy less aggressively or not at all, depending on a front passenger's size or position.

    Side air bags are now common for front occupants. The basic side air bag deploys from the seatback or door, and is designed to protect a person's torso. Separate side bags that protect the head have become nearly universal as well. The standard design is a side-curtain bag that drops down from the headliner and covers both the front and rear windows. Consumer Reports highly recommends head-protection side air bags where they're available.

    Three-point lap-and-shoulder belts provide the most protection in a crash, and most vehicles now have them in all seating positions. A few, however, may have only a lap belt in the center-rear position, which allows the upper part of the body to move forward in a crash or panic stop. The comfort of the belts is also important, because some people won't wear them if they're uncomfortable. Some vehicles, for instance, have front belts whose shoulder portion retracts into the seatback instead of the car's door pillar. Their advantage is that they move with the seat when the seat is adjusted fore and aft. But they can tug down uncomfortably on the shoulder of someone with a long torso.

    Many vehicles also include safety-belt pretensioners and force limiters, which work with the air bags to protect you in a crash. Pretensioners automatically take up the slack in the seat belt during a frontal crash, helping to restrain and properly position people for the air bag. Force-limiters relax the safety-belt tension slightly following the initial impact, so they can help absorb some of a person's forward thrust. That helps prevent chest and internal injuries caused by the belt itself.

    A car's head restraints are vital for guarding against the whiplash neck injuries that often accompany a rear-end collision. Restraints need to be tall enough to cushion the head above the top of the spine. Many cars' head restraints adjust for height. Look for those that lock in the raised position—a legal requirement for cars made since September, 2009. Those that do not lock can be forced down in a crash, losing effectiveness. Many cars' rear restraints are too low to do much good, which Consumer Reports notes in its road test reports. The IIHS web site (www.hwysafety.org) provides head-restraint or rear-crash ratings for many models.

    Child-safety seats save lives and should be used until a child is big enough to use the vehicle's regular safety belt. The conventional method of attaching a child seat uses the vehicle's safety belts. Often, incompatibilities between the car's seat and the child seat make a good, tight fit difficult and sometimes impossible to achieve.

    For some years all new vehicles have had a universal system called LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) that is designed to make attachment easier and more secure. But the system doesn't work equally well in all vehicles. Consumer Reports has found many cars with the LATCH attachment points sufficiently obscured that it's not easy to use them. Consumer Reports comments on the ease of installing child seats in its test reports. But the key is to try out a new car seat in your existing vehicle, or try out your existing car seat in a new vehicle before you buy either.

    Another child-safety consideration is power-window switches. Children have accidentally activated a power window while leaning out and have been killed or injured by the window closing on them. The easiest types to inadvertently trigger are horizontal rocker and toggle switches on the door's armrest, which raise the window when pushed down or to the side. Lever-type switches, which are flush with the surrounding trim and only raise the window when pulled up, are a safer design.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 01/26/14--20:59: Guide to safety features
  • Guide to safety features

    The most important thing you can do to protect your life is to buckle your seatbelt. Safety belts save lives on their own, but many of the more advanced safety features, such as seatbelt pretensioners and air bags, work best for people who are buckled up to start with.

    Don't overlook safety features when comparing different models. Antilock brakes and electronic stability control, for instance, are very desirable. Although now standard on new cars, these features are well worth seeking out if you’re buying an older car.

    Here's a rundown of some of the more important safety gear.

    Front air bags have been standard on all new cars since 1998 and light trucks since 1999. Most vehicles had them even before then. Crash sensors connected to an onboard computer detect a frontal collision and trigger the bags. The bags inflate in a few milliseconds—the blink of an eye—then immediately start deflating.

    While air bags have saved thousands of lives, they also have the potential to cause injury or even death to children or to occupants who aren’t using a seatbelt. Children under 12 should be seated in the rear in an appropriate restraint system and rear-facing child seats should never be installed in front seats equipped with air bags.

    Adaptive, or dual-stage front air bags, introduced in 2003, became standard across the board by the 2007 model year. Most air-bag systems now detect the presence, weight, and seat position for the driver and front passenger, and deactivate or de-power front air bags as appropriate to minimize the chance of injury to drivers positioned close to the wheel, out-of-position occupants or children.

    Side air bags. Torso protecting side-impact air bags for front-seat passengers are also nearly universal, and some automakers offer side bags for rear-seat passengers, as well. Side air bags are fairly small cushions that pop out of the door trim or the side of the seatback. They help protect the torso, but most aren’t effective in protecting the head. Nearly all new models today also include additional “side curtain” bags that deploy from above the windows and cover both front and rear side windows to prevent occupants from hitting their heads and to shield them from flying debris. A curtain bag often also stays ‘inflated’ longer in most cases to also keep people from being ejected during a rollover or a high-speed side crash. The better head-protection systems deploy the side-curtain bags if the system detects that the vehicle is beginning to roll over. (For more information on crash testing and Ratings, see our Crash test 101 report)

     

    Before antilock brakes came along, it was all too easy to lock up the wheels (stop them from turning) during hard braking. Sliding the front tires makes it impossible to steer, particularly on slippery surfaces. ABS prevents this from happening by using sensors at each wheel and a computer that maximizes braking action at each individual wheel to prevent lock-up. ABS allows the driver to retain steering control while braking, so that the car can be maneuvered around an obstacle, if necessary. Some drivers, unaccustomed to ABS actuation, may be alarmed as the pulsing sensation conveyed through the brake pedal and chattering at the wheels when used. Not to worry. This is the system rapidly applying the brakes to provide maximum power and control. The trick is to push hard on the pedal and let the system do its job.

    This electronically controlled system limits wheel spin during acceleration so that the drive wheels have maximum traction. It’s particularly useful when starting off in wet or icy conditions, and/or launching with a high-horsepower engine. Some traction-control systems operate only at low speeds, while others work at all speeds.

    Most traction-control systems use the car’s antilock brake system to momentarily brake a spinning wheel. This routes power to the opposite drive wheel. Some systems also may throttle back the engine, and upshift the transmission, to prevent wheel spin.

    Electronic stability control (ESC) takes traction control a step further. This system helps keep the vehicle on its intended path during a turn, to avoid sliding or skidding. It uses a computer linked to a series of sensors—detecting wheel speed, steering angle, sideways motion, and yaw (rotation). If the car drifts outside the driver’s intended path, the stability-control system momentarily brakes one or more wheels and, depending on the system, reduces engine power to pull the car back on course.

    ESC is especially helpful with tall, top-heavy vehicles like sport-utilities and pickups, where it can also help keep the vehicle out of situations where it could roll over.

    Electronic stability control became standard equipment on all cars with the 2012 model year. It started on luxury cars years ago and then migrated to other vehicles. It became especially commonplace on SUVs. Automakers each tend to have a proprietary name for their stability control systems, as listed below. If in doubt whether a used car has it, find out before you buy. Prior to 2012, while a model may be available with ESC, not necessarily every trim or individual car was so equipped.

    Make Stability-Control System Name
    Acura Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
    Audi Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    BMW Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
    Buick StabiliTrak
    Cadillac StabiliTrak
    Chevrolet Active Handling (cars); StabiliTrak (SUVs)
    Chrysler Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Dodge Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Ford AdvanceTrac
    GMC StabiliTrak
    Honda Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA)
    Hyundai Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Infiniti Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
    Jaguar Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
    Jeep Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Kia Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Land Rover Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
    Lexus Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
    Lincoln AdvanceTrac
    Mazda Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
    Mercedes-Benz Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Mini Dynamic Stability Control (DSC)
    Mitsubishi Mitsubishi Active Skid and Traction Control System (M-ASTC)
    Nissan Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC)
    Porsche Porsche Stability Management (PSM)
    Scion Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
    Subaru Vehicle Dynamics Control (VDC)
    Suzuki Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Toyota Vehicle Stability Control (VSC)
    Volkswagen Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
    Volvo Dynamic Stability Traction Control (DSTC)

    Consumer Reports’ auto experts highly recommend stability control, a proven life saver. Even with this and other safety systems, remember that the basic laws of physics still apply. Take any corner too fast, and you could push the vehicle beyond the system’s limits. So don’t just speed into a curve and expect the system to bail you out.

    While the seatbelt is arguably the single most important piece of safety equipment, enhanced features help seatbelts do their job more effectively.

    Seatbelt pretensioners instantly retract the belts to take up slack during a frontal impact. This also helps position occupants properly to take full advantage of a deploying air bag. Force limiters, a companion feature to pretensioners, manage the force that the shoulder belt builds up on the occupant's chest. After the pretensioners tighten it, force limiters let the belt play back out a little to reduce the force.

    Some models offer inflatable safety belts in the rear seat that further reduce the force of the belts themselves on rear passengers in an accident and spread those forces over a wider area—a particular concern with more fragile occupants, such as kids or the elderly.

    Adjustable upper anchors for the shoulder belts can make a meaningful safety difference. Adjustable anchors help position the belt across the chest instead of the neck to prevent neck injuries. They also can help keep the belt from pulling down on a tall person's shoulder, making it more comfortable and thereby encouraging its use.

    LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children)

    All vehicles are now required to have the LATCH system to make child-seat installation easier and more secure. The system features built-in lower anchors and top-tether attachment points for LATCH-compatible child safety seats. The LATCH system was designed to encourage the use of child restraints by simplifying installation and eliminating challenges and incompatibilities that safety-belt installation may present. But we’ve found a number of cars and trucks in which the LATCH system is tough to use correctly, so try installing a seat before you buy a new child seat. Check our findings in the road test for guidance on fit and compatibility.

    Brake assist

    Brake assist detects when a driver initiates a panic stop (as opposed to ordinary gradual stops) and applies the brakes to maximum force. In conjunction with anti-lock brakes, the system enables threshold braking without locking up the wheels. Studies have shown that most drivers, even in panic stops, don’t apply the brakes as hard as they could, so Brake Assist intervenes to reach the shortest possible stopping distance. 

    Adaptive cruise control

    Adaptive cruise uses lasers or radar to keep a constant distance between you and the car ahead, automatically maintaining a safe following distance.

    Forward-collision avoidance (aka, forward-collision warning or forward collision braking)

    Forward-collision warning uses cameras, radar or laser (or some combination thereof) to watch for cars ahead and alert the driver if they are approaching too fast or not paying attention. The systems alert the driver with some sort of visual or audible signal or both. Advanced forward-collision braking systems typically use Brake Assist to apply the brakes when an imminent collision is detected. Even basic forward-collision braking systems can stop a car quickly enough to avoid a collision at speed differentials up to 20 mph. At higher closing speeds, the system can’t stop the car in time, but will still apply the brakes to reduce the accident forces and prepare the cabin (seat belts, air bags) for impact.

    Adaptive cruise control

    Adaptive cruise uses lasers or radar, such as those used in forward-collision avoidance systems, to keep a constant distance between you and the car ahead, automatically maintaining a safe following distance. The most advanced systems can also accelerate the car after a stop at a traffic light or during a traffic jam, allowing the driver to do little more than watch and steer.  Some vehicles equipped with lane keeping assist will also allow the car to stay within the lane markings.

    Blind-spot warning

    Using radar or cameras, this system illuminates a light or icon in or adjacent to the outside mirrors to warn that another vehicle is lurking in the lane beside, possibly hidden in your car's blind spot. Many systems also sound an audible warning if you attempt to move over anyway or operate your turn signal indicating that you’re going to. Also effective are outside mirrors with a small convex section for a wide-angle rearward view.

    Lane departure warning (LDW)

    This alerts you if your car drives out of its lane without the turn signals activated. Using a camera or lasers to monitor lane markers, the LDW may sound a chime, blink a dashboard telltale, and/or vibrate the steering wheel or seat. High-tech versions can even intervene, using your car’s stability-control system to help prevent you from sideswiping another car.

    Pedestrian safety

    Volvo offers an optional pedestrian detection system that uses radar and cameras to detect people in front of the car. At speeds up to 22 mph, it automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to react in time.

    Active head restraints

    Active head restraints move up and forward in a rear crash to cradle the head and absorb energy in an effort to mitigate whiplash injury.

    Backup camera

    Mostly used as a parking aid by providing a bumper-level view aft, a backup camera can also assist with spotting a child or pedestrian concealed in the blind zone immediately behind the vehicle. A recommended convenience, this is a safety feature whose value is made apparent every time you drive. (See our blind spot measurements on previous vehicles not equipped with a camera.)

    Underinflated tires can hurt handling and fuel economy. They can even lead to a blowout as underinflated tires are more susceptible to damage and wear. A tire can lose air through the rubber and does so slowly so that many drivers don’t notice. A government regulation requires all vehicles made after October 31, 2006, to have a low-tire-pressure warning system. The type of tire-pressure monitor we favor measures tire pressure directly. Others gauge air loss indirectly by using sensors to count wheel revolutions. In either case, we still recommend checking your tire’s inflations pressure monthly with a conventional tire-pressure gauge.

    Combining cellular telephone and Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, several major automakers are offering an automated service that provides a high level of security and convenience. GM was the first to offer a factory-installed telematics solution with its OnStar service. Later systems include BMW Assist, Hyundai Bluelink, Kia UVO, Lexus Safety Connect, Mercedes-Benz’s mBrace, and Toyota Safety Connect. These systems allow the driver to communicate with a central dispatch center at the touch of a button. This center knows the location of the vehicle and can provide route directions or emergency aid on request. If an air bag deploys, the system automatically notifies the dispatch center, locates the vehicle, and summons emergency service, if the driver does not respond to a phone-based inquiry. A phone call to the dispatch center can find a “lost” car in a parking lot by beeping the horn, or unlock the doors if the keys have been locked inside or misplaced.

    The cost of telematics systems are built into the price of most vehicles that have them, but a monthly subscription fee, typically $10 to $20, is usually required.

    Most new, name-brand portable navigation devices include emergency assist features that can identify nearby emergency services.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Is it better to sleep on your back, belly, or side?

    Think a firm mattress is better for back pain? Not necessarily. All that really matters is that you find one that’s comfortable and fully supports your body without creating pressure points, says Arya Nick Shamie, M.D., chief of orthopedic spine surgery at the University of California Los Angeles in Santa Monica. (See our new mattress Ratings to find a mattress that’s right for you.) But sleep posture can make a difference for back pain, and for several other common ailments, including snoring and heartburn.

    Back pain: Sleep on your back or side

    That’s generally recommended for people who have back pain, according to a recent article in Applied Ergonomics. When on your back, keep your spine aligned by placing a small pillow under your head and a pillow or a firm foam wedge under your knees to maintain the natural curve of your lower back. If on your side, draw your knees up and lay a pillow lengthwise between your legs to prevent the inner side of the knees from hitting each other, which can be uncomfortable.

    Neck pain: Sleep on your back or side

    When on your back, support the natural curve of your neck with a rounded neck pillow, and place a flat pillow beneath your head, according to research at Harvard Medical School. When on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that’s higher under your neck than your head.

    Shoulder pain: Sleep on your back or unaffected side

    When on your back, place a small pillow beneath your injured shoulder. When on your unaffected side, hug a pillow (or a friend).  

    Hip pain: Sleep on the unaffected side

    Draw your knees up and lay a pillow between your legs to keep your hips aligned and to prevent your knees from touching.

    Knee pain: Sleep on your back or side

    When on your back, place a pillow behind your knees. When on your side, keep your knee in a comfortable, flexed position.

    Heartburn: Sleep on your left side

    Heartburn is caused when the ring of muscle at the top of your stomach doesn’t fully close, allowing caustic stomach acid to leak back into your esophagus. That’s particularly likely when you lie down after a big meal, which is why heartburn symptoms are often worse at night and why it often interferes with sleep. Lying on your left side positions the esophagus in such a way that it makes it harder for the acid to escape the stomach. It can also help to elevate the upper half of your body by placing 4- to 6-inch blocks under the head of the bed, or by putting a wedge-shaped support under the mattress. Don’t use extra pillows under your head since that doesn’t reposition your stomach or esophagus, but can cause a stiff neck.

    Snoring: Sleep on either side

    Try sleeping on one side or the other, not your back. Your throat muscles relax when you sleep on your back, and your tongue can fall backward. That narrows your throat, which gives your breathing the characteristic snoring sound. This simple sleep position trick could help control sleep apnea, a severe form of snoring in which the airway can become partially or fully blocked when sleeping on your back. As a result, your blood oxygen level can drop, causing the release of stress hormones that increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

    —Doug Podolsky

    Mattress Recommendations

    Our top-scoring innerspring mattress, the Serta Perfect day iSeries Applause, $1,075, is very good for side and back sleepers and was excellent in our durability tests, which simulate eight years of use. We named the Serta a CR Best Buy.

    Our top-rated foam mattress is the Sleep Number Innovation Series i8 bed Pillowtop, $3,000, which was very good for side sleepers, excellent for back sleepers, and has excellent durability.

    But for almost a quarter of that price, you can buy the Novaform Memory Foam Collection Serafina 14” for $800 at Costco, which was very good for side and back sleeping and a CR Best Buy.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    5 biggest goofs when buying a refrigerator

    The hundreds of refrigerator models on the market means there's definitely the perfect unit out there for you. The flipside to the bounty is that there are also a lot of ways to go wrong. We boiled the many pitfalls into five common gaffes committed by refrigerator shoppers. Give them a look before seeing our refrigerator Ratings for more than 300 models available in stores and online.     

    Choosing the wrong size. This is especially important to avoid if you're working with an existing opening in the kitchen. Remember to measure the doorway leading into the kitchen to make sure your new unit will fit though it. And factor in the refrigerator's door swing in relation to adjacent walls, cabinets, and other appliances. Lastly, make sure to leave at least a 1-inch clearance around the unit and the surrounding cabinetry to ensure adequate air flow.

    Ignoring noise. We recently had a letter from a reader unhappy with his refrigerator purchase over its clamorous operation. "The unit works excellently, but the noise is so loud and distracting that it sounds broken, and can literally be heard from multiple rooms in our small house," he wrote. Noisy refrigerators can be particularly annoying in open-plan homes, where the kitchen is within earshot of other living spaces. In those situations, we advise getting a model that earns an excellent for noise in our Ratings. Many of our recommended refrigerators get top marks for quietness.

    Buying by brand alone. The top spots in our Ratings of the various refrigerator configurations are GE, LG, Samsung, Thermador, and Whirlpool. But each of these brands also has models that miss our recommended list, in some cases by a wide margin. That's why we always advise checking the Ratings for specific models, rather than choosing by brand alone.

    Glossing over the features. Refrigerator design has gotten increasingly sophisticated, catering to specific lifestyles and routines. For example, more models have a middle drawer that can be handy for keeping kids' snacks. If maximum storage is a priority, consider a model with a slim in-door icemaker, which frees up space on the upper shelf. Entertain often? Paying more for a model with a second icemaker might be a worthwhile investment. And if you store a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, consider a model with dual evaporators, which maintain higher humidity levels in the fresh-food section.  

    Overlooking energy costs. Even with today's tougher energy efficiency standards, the refrigerator is still one of the most power-hungry appliances in the home. That's especially true if you choose a less-efficient model, which might cost you an additional $50 per year to run versus an energy-sipping model. Over the lifetime of the unit, that can add up to a difference of $500 or more.    

    —Daniel DiClerico         

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Dependable washing machines for $600 or less

    Spend $1,000 or more on a washing machine and you can choose between a front-loader and high-efficiency (HE) top-loader, with high performance a good possibility and handy features a given. If your budget is $600 or less then a top-loader’s for you—you can even find a large capacity HE model that uses a lot less water than a conventional top-loader yet is impressive at cleaning. We found five that fit the bill. But first a warning. All five are relatively noisy.
     
    In our Ratings of 100-plus HE and conventional top-loaders only one was relatively quiet in the $600 and under price range, and that washer, the Frigidaire Affinity FAHE1011M[W], $600, is near the bottom of the Ratings and takes nearly two hours to do a normal wash load (it sounds really long because it is). So how noisy are the five washers we liked? They earned a good in our noise tests, so they make annoying, sustained sounds, making them better suited for basements. To find out how loud a washer that scored excellent is and how poor is poor, watch the video below. And here’s a glimpse of the five HE top-loaders.

    Maytag. The Maytag Centennial MVWC425BW is $600 and a CR Best Buy. It has a large capacity, was impressive at washing, water efficiency, and extracting water, so dryer time is less. Its 45-minute wash time is among the fastest of the recommended models and half the time of some. That’s a normal wash on the heavy-soil setting. But in addition to being relatively noisy, it wasn’t that gentle on fabrics.

    Whirlpool. The Whirlpool WTW4900BW and Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5500BW, each $600, are CR Best Buys, have large capacities, and the Whirlpool WTW4900BW performed similarly to the Maytag (Maytag is a Whirlpool brand). We expect the Whirlpool Cabrio to perform similarly to the tested WTW4900BW and the Cabrio has a 40-minute wash time, five minutes faster than the Whirlpool WTW4900BW. But neither is gentle on fabrics.

    Kenmore. The Kenmore 27102 didn’t make our recommended list but at $600, this HE top-loader has a large capacity and was impressive at cleaning, water efficiency, and water extraction. Normal wash time on the heavy-soil setting was a brisk 45 minutes and it was gentler on fabrics than the Maytag and both Whirlpools. We expect the $400 Kenmore 25102 to perform similarly to the tested Kenmore 27102.

    If your laundry room is near bedrooms or the family room, you’ll want a washer that scored very good or better in our noise and vibration tests. You’ll know the washer is working, but it shouldn’t disturb you. The top scoring top-loaders, the $700 LG WT1101CW, and the $750 Samsung WA422PRHD[WR], scored very good in our noise tests, are HE models, and are CR Best Buys. Our Ratings of top-loaders and front-loaders tell the whole story.

    —Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Are you allergic to house dust?

    Have you sealed your home tight against cold winter drafts? That can lead to stale, allergen-laden indoor air. If you’re coughing, sneezing or wheezing, your body’s immune system might be overreacting to rising levels of house dust and the allergy-causing particles they harbor. Vacuuming at least weekly and taking other steps can help reduce your exposure, says Thomas A. E. Platts-Mills, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and indoor-allergy expert. (See our new vacuum Ratings to find a vacuum that’s right for you.) Here are the major allergens that hitch a ride on house dust and what you can do to keep them at bay.

     

    Dust mite matter

    Those microscopic, insect-like pests feed on the flakes of dead skin you shed onto carpets, mattresses, upholstered furniture, pillows, and other fabric-covered items. They don’t bite but their fecal matter, which settles onto dust particles you can glimpse when you fluff a pillow, is highly allergenic when you breathe it in and can cause asthma flare-ups.

    What to do: While there’s little hard research, vacuuming and dusting the house at least weekly and buying dust-proof covers for your mattresses and pillows are common-sense approaches. If you’re allergic, try replacing bedroom carpets and curtains with washable throw rugs and blinds, experts say. Since dust mites absorb moisture from the air, it makes sense to deplete their numbers by reducing indoor humidity to between 30 and 50 percent with a dehumidifier. Less than that and your nasal passages can become dry. You could also consider an air purifier. In our tests, better performers did especially well at filtering dust and other indoor allergens.

    Animal dander

     

    Skin flakes and saliva proteins shed by cats, dogs, birds, and other animals found on house dust remain airborne and can cause allergic reactions in sensitive people for a long time before settling down to the floor.

    What to do: Don’t get pets if you’re allergic. If you already have them, keep them out of the bedroom. Since sweeping only spreads their dander back up in the air, it’s best to vacuum floors. See our Buying Guide and check our latest Ratings for top-performing models that sucked up particles from carpets and floors without coughing them back into the air you breathe. Models with high-efficiency particulate-air (HEPA) filters have been very effective at reducing emissions, but some models that don't have HEPA filters have performed just as well in our tests. Consider bagless vacuums carefully. They save you the cost of bags but the dust and mess of emptying their bins is a concern if you have asthma or allergies. If possible, and you have a willing volunteer, leave the chore to someone who isn’t dust-sensitive and go to another room. If you must do it, wear a cup-shaped dust mask.

    Mold

     

    Inhaling mold on house dust or mold spores floating in the air can cause allergic reactions, asthma attacks, and even irritate your eyes and skin.

    What to do: Steam-clean floors and carpets to kill the mold and fungi that build in the winter. (See our buying guide and Ratings for steam mops.) Fix leaks and clean up mold promptly around the house. Use a solution of no more than 1 cup of bleach in 1 gallon of water to target mold in and around the shower or tub area, especially the tiles and shower curtain. If you’re still concerned about mold or other indoor allergens, check Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs for recommendations about antihistamine drugs used to relieve allergies and inhaled steroids for asthma symptoms.

    —Doug Podolsky

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    What is the brightest LED or CFL lightbulb available?

    Q. What is available in an LED or a CFL that gives brighter light, such as in the case of the incandescent 50/100/150-watt bulb? Also, are high-wattage incandescents available?—John Malik Binghamton, NY
     
    A. So far the brightest omnidirectional LEDs that we have tested are 100-watt equivalent (1,600 lumens). We are trying to get some new LED three-way bulbs that are claimed to include a bright setting of 150-watt equivalent or around 2,100 lumens. By law, regular 60-, 75-, and 100-watt incandescent bulbs cannot be made anymore, but you can still buy old inventory and you can still get halogen bulbs, which can put out about 1,500 lumens. Incandescent three-way bulbs are not included in the ban, and many of them are claimed to be 150 watts or around 2,150 lumens.

    Send your questions to ConsumerReports.org/askourexperts.

    —Consumer Reports

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Get the paint color you really want

    After years of buying paint from my local hardware store it was time to thank the store owner for doing such a beautiful job matching colors, turning out a soft dreamy blue for a bedroom and a wheat yellow that changed my living room from dark and uninviting to warm and cozy. So as he added up the cost of new brushes and paint, I finally complimented him and he laughed. “I’m colorblind,” he confessed.
     
    It used to be that you had to depend on the guy at the paint store and his knowledge of color to be able to match the sage green in your fabric swatch. Some would just wing it as they added colorants to the paint while others had advice from paint manufacturers to follow. You’ll still find a few people who pride themselves on matching colors by sight, but most rely on improved software. “The engineers and technicians who develop these tools have worked to improve the color matching systems so that you can get within a percent or two of a color,” says Debbie Zimmer, a spokesperson for the Paint Quality Institute. That said, you do have to take into account that paint’s sheen can vary by brand and the sheen affects your perception of the color.
     
    In our latest tests of 67 interior paints we wanted to see if we could match a lovely blue from Farrow & Ball, a paint that’s made and tinted at a factory in England. We sent a secret shopper to three Home Depots with a panel painted with Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell in Lulworth Blue, $105 a gallon. Our shopper returned with three gallons of the top-scoring Behr Premium Plus Ultra Satin, $34 a gallon, in a blue created by a computerized color-matching system. We applied the Behr to panels and compared them with a panel painted with Farrow & Ball. The Behr paints were about 1 percent lighter, according to our colorimeter, a difference that we couldn’t see, and our gloss meter found that the sheens were the same for the two brands.
     
    What was noticeable in our tests was that the Farrow & Ball was the worst at hiding old paint. It took two coats of the eggshell finish to do what the Behr did in one. Farrow & Ball’s Modern Emulsion, in our flat and matte category, and Farrow & Ball Full Gloss, in our semi-gloss group, were also the worst in their categories at hiding old paint. The eggshell and gloss paints also left a rough, grainy finish and lost most of their sheen after cleaning, although both resisted stains well.

    If you’re trying to match a color, shop when there are fewer customers and not during the morning rush of contractors. You want a salesperson who isn’t overwhelmed and mixing equipment with clean nozzles. Ask the clerk to put a dab of paint next to your sample and dry the dab with the hair dryer they keep handy. Then take a good look at the color. And to find the best paints that go on easy, hide well, leave a smooth finish, and hold up to cleaning, check out our interior paint Ratings.

     —Kimberly Janeway

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Refrigeration arrives at Downton Abbey

    Fans of "Downton Abbey" on PBS are used to the tension between progress and tradition that's played out over the series' four seasons. This week's episode added a technological twist to that theme with the arrival of refrigeration to the noble estate. Mrs. Patmore, the simple-minded head cook, offers up her usual fearful resistance while Lady Grantham maintains her agent-of-change status.

    We all know how this one ends—at least where refrigeration is concerned. Maybe more than any home appliance, refrigerators have made life easier and safer for consumers. Point Lady Grantham. But that doesn't mean every appliance innovation should be greeted with open arms. Indeed, channeling your inner Patmore can be prudent when appliance shopping. Here are a few items to be wary of.

    Appliances that talk to the utility company. This is one of the claimed benefits of certain smart appliances, which can supposedly be programmed to turn on during off-peak hours when electricity rates are lowest. The catch? You'll only reap the savings if your utility company offers time-of-use pricing, and very few currently do. Check with your company before spending more on an energy-managing smart appliance.

    Refrigerators with multimedia screens. More manufacturers are hawking $3,000-plus refrigerators that incorporate high-tech equipment such as TVs, digital-picture or music devices, and family-organizing centers. But our refrigerator tests have found that you can save hundreds, if not thousands, and get better performance by buying such equipment separately.

    Steam-enhanced washing machines. More and more washers feature a steam setting that promises to clean better while also sanitizing fabrics. Some of the models in our washing machine Ratings did in fact clean better than the competition, but they did so even without the steam option in use. And they cost a lot more than other top performers.  

    —Daniel DiClerico       

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Heated handles take the sting out of clearing snow

    Innovative features on some of the latest snow blowers tested by Consumer Reports, including the top-ranked Cub Cadet 31AH57S, $1,500, and the Ariens 921032, $1,300, have improved snow removal speed and maneuverability. But when you’re clearing the driveway in bitterly cold temperatures, another little feature can make a big difference in your comfort—heated hand grips.

    The heated handles typically come on larger models that cost more, starting with the 26-inch, track-driven Troy-Bilt Storm Tracker 2690XP 31BM73R 3, $1,100, featured in our tests. Many snow blowers with 28- to 30-inch clearing widths, including the Cub Cadet 31AH57S, also have heated grips.

    Unfortunately, it's the snow blowers with the narrowest clearing widths that keep you out in the cold longer and they usually aren't equipped with the heated handles. If you use one of those machines, you can keep your hands warm with air-activated or other hand warmers ($1 to $2 per warmer) that you slip into your gloves.

    To find the best snow blower for the size of your property as well as the amount of snow you typically clear, see the results of our snow blower tests, which feature both single-stage and two-stage blowers.

    —Ed Perratore

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Best beer and blender drinks for game day

    With frigid temperatures gripping most of the nation, the last thing most people want is an icy drink. But soon it will be game day, when margaritas and piña coladas are part of the party. To make them, you need a blender that crushes ice like a champ, such as the winners of Consumer Reports’ icy drink and ice crush tests. And for the beer drinkers in the crowd, we have the results of our craft beer taste tests.

    Tied at the top of our blender tests, with 91 points each, are the Ninja Master Prep Professional QB1004 and the Vitamix 5200. Both were excellent on the ice tests and also got top marks for puréeing and durability. Where they differ is in the price. At $60, the Ninja is a CR Best Buy. The Vitamix 5200, which has its own fan base, costs $450. It’s one of the few blenders in our tests that makes hot soup.

    Of the other 12 blenders in our top picks, only one, the Ninja Professional NJ600, $100, aced both ice tests. It’s a bit larger and noisier than its brand mate. You can find frozen drink recipes on such foodie websites as Delish, the Food Network, and Serious Eats, among others.

    Best craft beers
    If mixed drinks aren’t your thing or you’d rather spend your time in front of the TV instead of working the blender, craft beers are another crowd pleaser. In our blind taste tests of 23 ales and lagers, 11 made our list of top beer picks. Our top ale is Stone IPA, an intensely fragrant, floral, and fruity pale ale with a powerful and lingering bitterness. We also recommend ales from Dogfish Head and Samuel Adams.

    Our top lager is Brooklyn Lager, which is complex and fruity, with a good balance of dark malty and hoppy notes. We also like lagers from Samuel Adams and Anchor Steam. When planning your party menu, remember these beer basics: With intensely flavored, bitter beer, eat bold, fatty foods. (Fat helps to temper a beer’s bitterness.) A steak, ripened cheese, or a flavorful dessert works well. Lighter, simpler beers pair well with a wide range of foods.

    —Mary H.J. Farrell

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    Maker of NuWave Oven deluged with complaints

    Like any popular infomercial product, the NuWave Pro Infrared Oven makes some pretty bold promises, including “delicious fried chicken from frozen to your table in just 15 minutes.” After Consumer Reports put a few of those claims to the test a few years ago, we were impressed by the results. But before you rush out to buy the $120 countertop cooker, check out the consumer complaints that have been dogging it.

    The Better Business Bureau reports that consumers from all 50 states and three Canadian provinces have now filed 1,291 complaints against Hearthware Inc., maker of the Nuwave Oven. Most of the complaints aren’t performance related, but rather have to do with exorbitant shipping and processing fees tacked on to supposedly free products. Given the volume of complaints, the BBB has given the company an “F” rating.

    Still looking for a speedy countertop cooker? For our recent report on saving time in the kitchen, we tested several devices that also promise to curb cooking times. That includes the Cuisinart Steam Advantage CSO-300, a $300 combo steam/convection unit that cooked nicely browned chicken in about 40 minutes. And the user reviews we're seeing online are mostly from satisfied customers.       

    —Daniel DiClerico

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    4 robotic cleaners take to the floor

    Robots were buzzing all over the 2014 International CES, especially in the diminutive form of robotic vacuums, new hard-floor scrubbers, and models that can handle both tasks. All work similarly in that they run on battery power, do their jobs, and return to the charger when almost out of power. Here’s a roundup of models we saw:


    iRobot Scooba 450
    As the Roomba 760 we tested is intended for carpets and bare floors, the iRobot Scooba 450 (above) dives into hard floors—specifically ones with stains you’d otherwise handle with a wet mop. It holds iRobot Scooba Hard Floor Cleaner in an internal tank. Its software is nearly the same as for the Roomba line, and the underside sports a revolving brush and a squeegee. The $599 price includes a 4-ounce bottle of cleaner that’s good for eight uses. A 16-ounce bottle, available at the iRobot store now and later elsewhere, costs $12.99 and is good for 32 uses.

    Ecovacs Deebot D93
    The Ecovacs Deebot D93 is the only app-controllable robotic vacuum of the bunch. It can pick up dust (no scrubbing) from carpets or bare floors and comes with a washable dry pad for bare floors. The smart phone app (on the iPad in photo), for iOS or Android devices, lets you see how and where the unit is cleaning. Slated for a September launch, the Deebot D93 is expected to be sold at Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Amazon.com. The pricing is three-level. For $499, you get no Wi-Fi for connection with the app. Wi-fi costs an additional $100. And for $799, the charger that comes with all versions includes an extra component that will empty the Deebot’s bin. The same component can detach for use as a corded hand vac with a case of tools.

    Moneual Rydis H68 Pro
    This robotic cleaner can do it all—carpets and wet or dry bare floors. It can vacuum your carpet only, turning around when it senses bare floor. But in hybrid mode it will adjust to do either as it goes along. The Rydis H68 Pro comes with disposable wet or dry pads, but there’s also a spacious mop pad that’s machine-washable. Unlike the iRobot Scooba’s tank, this one holds water or your floor-cleaning product of choice. The machine can do back-and-forth sweeps or a curlicue pattern. It should be available by April and is expected to cost $499 at Best Buy, Sears, HomeDepot.com, Amazon.com, and other sellers. Another product, the $199 Moneual Robospin, has no vacuum and is intended for bare floors only. There’s no tank, but you can wet the two pads it uses at a time. It should ship by year’s end.

    Neato XV Essential
    This latest robotic vacuum is a lower-cost offering than the $400 Neato XV-21 we recently tested but is also intended for dry floors, whether carpeted or not. It uses the same software for guidance as the company’s other models. What you give up for the lesser price is the pleated filter (the Essential’s is flat) and the second, “combo” brush, which includes bristles for carpet. The new model’s rubber blade brush seems better suited for debris on hard floors. It’s expected to sell for about $379 by the end of March, initially at Walmart.com alone.

    Thinking for a new vacuum? Be sure to read our buying guide for vacuums, including robotic models, before seeing our Ratings.

    —Ed Perratore

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0

    What makes the best juice, a blender or a juicer?

    The health benefits of fruit and vegetable juice have helped stoke juicer sales. Manufacturers of high-end blenders are trying to squeeze in on the profits by claiming their products can make juice too, in addition to the usual smoothies and shakes. “Turn whole fruits and vegetables into refreshing juices,” says Vitamix, adding that its machine  “utilizes every part of your produce and its valuable nutrition.”

    Consumer Reports put that claim to the test by pitting the Vitamix 5200, one of our top-performing blenders, against two conventional juicers. The Bella NutriPro is a cold-press juicer with a single auger that compresses fruits and vegetables. The Dash  JB001CM is an extractor-style juicer with masticating blades that pulverize produce into juice.

    We made three types of juice—equally dividing apples, carrots, and oranges so that each machine juiced portions of the same produce. Our sensory experts did a taste test, assessing overall flavor and consistency.  All three devices did the job, though with varying degrees of ease, output, and flavor. Here are the details.

    Vitamix wins for volume and versatility. Chopping up produce and tossing it into the Vitamix 5200, $450, is a cinch. And there’s very little waste, a plus in terms of fiber and nutrition. But the results had more of a smoothie or purée consistency than what you might think of as juice, and our tasters noted more bitterness. Then again, the Vitamix is superb at making smoothies, frozen drinks, and more, so you’re getting plenty of added value.
    Average time to juice: 70 seconds
    Average percent of juice by weight: 91

    Bella’s tasty results can be tedious work. Our tasters found apple juice made in the  Bella Nutripro, $250, to be fresh tasting and clean, and its orange juice had the fullest flavor. But the machine was the most difficult to use with hard foods such as carrots, which we had to cut into small pieces. Even then the augur kept jamming, requiring us to repeatedly hit the reverse button. Carrots took 4 minutes to juice, compared with 2 minutes for the Vitamix and 1 minute for the Dash.
    Average time to juice:
    120 seconds
    Average percent of juice by weight: 55

    Dash combines functionality and flavor. We found the Dash JB001CM, $140, to be fairly easy to operate, though like the Bella, it has a lot of parts to clean (the devices come with a brush to help). The juice had a pleasant consistency—thicker than the Bella but not the viscosity of the Vitamix. The carrot and apple juices in particular had good flavors. The orange juice did, too, but with a hint of bitterness.
    Average time to juice:
    60 seconds
    Average percent of juice by weight: 57

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 01/30/14--02:59: Viewpoint
  • Viewpoint

    A change in early 2013 to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act made it illegal to  “unlock” cell phones. That meant when your contract expired, you couldn’t move your device to a different service provider. You’d have to purchase a new phone to take advantage of a competitor’s cheaper wireless rates, for example.

    But a new voluntary industry agreement once again gives consumers the ability to take their mobile devices to a different carrier’s compatible network. AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and  Verizon Wireless will extend unlocking capabilities to traditional contract customers and those with prepaid phones. They also agreed to notify customers when their devices become eligible to be moved or automatically unlock them remotely (without additional fees).

    Consumers Union has been working for years on getting shoppers more power in the mobile marketplace. We’re encouraged that this agreement will provide needed flexibility while helping to spur competition among carriers and device makers. Consumers Union will monitor the agreement to make sure it’s followed appropriately.

    California is leading the way in making sure shoppers have access to furniture that’s fire-safe and free of unhealthy flame retardants.

    The Golden State’s new flammability standard, which went into effect in January, allows upholstered furniture (and the foam found in many baby products) to be produced without being injected with flame-retardant chemicals. Research suggests that the chemicals might actually increase fire risks. What’s more, they can be transferred from furniture to people—mainly through dust—and have been linked to cancer, reduced IQ, infertility, birth defects, and other problems.

    The chemicals have been used to meet a 1975 California standard that required the foam in furniture to withstand a small open flame for 12 seconds. It was a state regulation, and it became a de facto national standard.

    Although it doesn’t ban retardants, we support the new standard and filed comments with regulators before it was finalized.

    Californians should look for a  “TB117-2013” tag when shopping for furniture (the code for the new standard), and wherever you live, ask about flame retardants before buying.

    ‘This agreement is a major step forward to reducing the emissions that are causing our climate to change and unleashing the extreme weather that we are experiencing with increased frequency.’

    —NEW YORK GOV. ANDREW CUOMO Representatives from California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York unveiled a plan in late 2013 to collectively put 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025 and develop the needed fueling stations to keep them running.

    That’s the number of children 3 and younger rushed to the hospital every hour (of every day) because of an injury related to a high chair or booster seat, reports a new study published in Clinical Pediatrics. Almost all injuries involve a fall, usually preceded by the child climbing or standing in the chair. The chair’s safety restraint either wasn’t being used or was ineffective. Thankfully, new safety regulations for high chairs are expected in the near future. We hope it’s sooner rather than later.

    See past installments of Viewpoint.

    This article also appeared in the March 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

    0 0
  • 01/30/14--02:59: Pick the best mattress
  • Pick the best mattress

    You don’t have to be among the roughly 70 million Americans with chronic sleep problems to dream about a new mattress. Almost three out of four respondents to a recent industry survey believed a new bed would help them sleep better. But choose wisely: Our latest tests of 24 mattresses show huge differences in the spine support that counts most, especially if you spend at least part of the night on your back.

    We use dozens of electronic sensors to precisely and repeatedly measure how well each mattress supports the spine by maintaining its natural curve when you’re on your back and keeping it horizontal when you’re on your side. Sleep Number’s foam-and-air Innovation Series i8 bed Pillowtop, $3,000, is currently the only mattress that aced our back-support test, which helped it capture the top spot in our Ratings. (As its name implies, the Sleep Number has adjustable firmness: Punch a number into its remote control to inflate or deflate an air-filled layer beneath its foam top.) But you don’t have to spend that much to get the support you need. Our tests show that Costco’s Novaform Foam Collection Serafina 14-inch Memory, a CR Best Buy at $800, should support back sleepers almost as well for a fraction of the price.

    A new low for back support: the Ashley Sleep Ellis Bay 15-inch Pillowtop, $1,200, which earned the first and only Poor in this test and ranks lowest overall.

    Still prefer a traditional innerspring mat­tress? Impressive support for both back and side sleeping helped put Serta’s Perfect Day iSeries Applause at the top of this best-selling category. And at just $1,075, the Serta is also a CR Best Buy.

    Months of testing with both men and women also confirm that you can spend thousands of dollars and get relatively little for your money, or cheap out and get subpar support. Industry insiders and more than 6,000 Consumer Reports subscribers who shared their shopping experiences in our latest survey also show that picking the right retailer—and using a few smart tactics—can help you avoid some common shopping nightmares. Here are the details:

    A big-buck letdown. Duxiana calls its $4,800 Dux 101 innerspring the “perfect introduction to the legendary DUX comfort and support.” But although side support got high marks in our tests, back support was only middling. Lots of bounc­iness could also allow a restless sleeper on one side to wake a sound sleeper on the other. What’s more, that lofty price doesn’t include the interchangeable spring sections that let you fine-tune firmness on this model’s pricier brandmates.

    When cheaper means cheap. Roughly 11 percent of subscribers we surveyed were sorry they hadn’t spent more on their mattress. Two low-cost models support that lament. Ikea’s innerspring Sultan Holmsta costs just $580 but proved mediocre for side support and subpar for back sleeping. And although the Spa Sensations 10-inch Memory Foam SPA-1000Q may seem like a steal at only $360, it scored lowest in our durability tests, which use a 308-pound roller to mimic the eight to 10 years of use common for mattresses.

    The full article is available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers. Sign in or subscribe to read this article.

    Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers or sponsors on this website. Copyright © 2007-2013 Consumers Union of U.S.

    Subscribe now!
    Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org for expert Ratings, buying advice and reliability on hundreds of products.
    Update your feed preferences

                    submit to reddit    

older | 1 | .... | 25 | 26 | (Page 27) | 28 | 29 | .... | 106 | newer